The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2017

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44  /  the tasting panel  /  july 2017 A DAY IN THE LIFE O ne winemaker in a family is hard enough, but two? Add in a nine- year-old daughter and you've got a full plate. Jonathan Nagy, Head Winemaker at Byron Vineyards, and wife Clarissa, Winemaker at Riverbench and Nagy Wines, all located in the Santa Maria Valley, work hard at keeping family life as normal as possible. In fact, when The Tasting Panel sat down with them on a recent Sunday afternoon, Clarissa was heading north to San Luis Obispo to pour wine at a charity auction, while Jonathan was hunkered down at Byron tasting with a group of distribu- tors. Such is life in the Nagy home. The two met when they were hired on the same day at Byron Winery— Jonathan as Assistant Winemaker and Clarissa as Director of Winery Research. "The crew was pretty certain we hated each other," says Jonathan. But as they worked together on trial lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, something happened. "He became one of my best friends," Clarissa admits. "I thought, if I can go through harvest with this person, I could spend the rest of my life with her," Jonathan adds. Within a few years, they were married, Jonathan became Head Winemaker at Byron and Clarissa became Winemaker at Riverbench and in 2005 started her own label. "We have a love of Burgundy, Champagne and Santa Maria," Clarissa says, beaming her million-dollar smile. "Yes, we bring work home, but it's not a bad thing; there's collaboration and we bounce ideas off each other," says Jonathan. "We are fortunate that we both work for companies that put people first." Jonathan tells me that Jackson Family Wines, the owner of Byron, has a motto of "People, land and brands." Clarissa echoes this sentiment with the owners of Riverbench. But beyond that, what helps the family dynamic is that they are working in the same valley, but at different times. "We're pretty blessed that the valley ripens the way it does during harvest," Clarissa says. Byron's Nielsen vineyard ripens first, then Riverbench—located literally across the Santa Maria River— then fruit is pulled from Bien Nacido a few miles north. "When Jonathan is in the thick of it, I'm just getting into it, and when he's coming out of harvest, I'm in the thick of it." And yes, they work on a master schedule. "So if racking goes long, we understand those delays," she adds. Clarissa has even, out of necessity, taken daughter Gabriella to work with her after school. "She's done punch-downs and knows how to clamp a hose; she'll stuff wine club newsletters, or just read." That doesn't mean Gabriella will be following in her parent's footsteps. "I want to be a teacher," she told me in a hushed voice while sitting on her mother's lap. But that's down the road, and meanwhile there are many jobs for mom and dad to do, including pouring at events, distributor and sales meet- ings, wine clubs and the list goes on. Typical of their divergent schedules, Jonathan recalls a time at Hospice du Rhône in Paso Robles when Clarissa was speaking on a panel, and as she finished, he showed up, passing off ten- month-old Gabriella to her so he could pour at the event. They have learned to be calculating. "You have to be mindful of how you spend your time—what's best for the company and what's best for us. We can't take on everything." And that mindful- ness seems evident as Jonathan looks at me wistfully. "You can do life and work well, and be successful as a family." Mom & Dad Winemakers by Michael Cervin BALANCING THE WINE LIFE ON CALIFORNIA'S CENTRAL COAST Clarissa Nagy, Winemaker at Riverbench, and husband Jonathan Nagy, Head Winemaker at Byron Vineyards, with Gabriella, their nine-year- old daughter.

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